More sweaty, bandana-swathed percussionists banging on animal-skin drums. Additional acrobats and dancers wearing oddly designed costumes. Yet another composer whose oeuvre sounds like the soundtrack for the next Steven Spielberg movie.
Taipei's seen it all before.
So why the official city welcome at Zhongshan Hall (中山堂) for this latest group of cultural ambassadors? They're the best talent Beijing has to offer — at least for the capital city of the democracy its rulers covet — and they're here this month for Beijing Week, the second leg of the Cross-Strait Cities Art Festival (兩岸城市藝術節—城市文化互訪系列—北京週).
Last month, a delegation covering the full range of Taiwanese art forms visited Beijing for Taipei Week, which was billed as the first such cultural exchange hosted by China. Groups representing Taipei included the Taipei Symphony Orchestra (台北市立交響樂團), its Fine Arts Museum (台北市立美術館) and the Creative Society's Micotheatre (創作社劇團).
On Monday, Beijing Week started at Zhongshan Hall with a performance of Chinese composer Tang Jianping's (唐健平) latest symphony, The Sacred Fire 2008 (聖火2008), which he dedicated to the upcoming Beijing Olympics. The festival continues through Oct. 29 with Peking opera, modern dance and a gallery exhibition.
The Beijing delegation was welcomed Monday afternoon in a media event at Zhongshan Hall, with speeches by Mayor Ying-jeou (馬英九) and city cultural officials, one of whom called the festival “a dream come true.”
Publicity events for visiting performers usually fall into one of two categories: those where artists preview the best elements of their acts to give journalists a good idea of what audiences can expect, and those where the performers serve as a backdrop for a corporate sponsor or politicians.
This was definitely one of the latter. The Chinese artists performed for roughly 15 minutes, while officials from Taipei and Beijing spoke for half an hour. Which was just as well, because if Monday's press conference was any indication, the performances had little to offer in the way of something new.
Kicking off the press conference was a group of drummers and a pair of red dragons from the state-run China National Acrobatic Troupe (中國雜技團), which was founded in 1950 by former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) and has often served as a cultural envoy to countries where plate-twirlers and dancing dragons are rarely seen.
Following the drummers came a large acrobat and his tiny companion, who performed a short but rather incongruous ballet before launching into a series of balancing tricks. Though it was impressive to watch the female acrobat stand upside-down on her companion's head, this feat was overshadowed by the pair's costumes — white leather and mesh outfits that looked like the product of contact between extraterrestrials and a Stone Age culture.
More interesting were two actors from the respected Peking Opera Troupe of Beijing (北京京劇院), who performed a scene from the Beijing opera classic Si Lang Seeks His Mother (四郎探母).
Their troupe performs Pouring Water Before the Horse (馬前潑水) and Three Sinners (閻惜姣) at 7:30pm tonight and tomorrow at the Taipei County Arts Center (台北縣藝文中心演藝聽), 62 Jhuangjing Rd, Banqiao City, Taipei County (台北縣板橋市莊敬路62號).
Then, at 7:30pm on Monday and Tuesday, the Beijing Modern Dance Company (北京現代舞團) performs Beijing Concept (北京意象) at the Taipei Zhongshan Hall (台北市中山堂), 98 Yenping S Rd, Taipei (台北市延平南路98號).